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There’s gold in them thar hills

by Tom Winter

You can feel it in the air, the cold nip of the season heading south as summer flees the High Country and fall starts to settle in.

The first sign is an aspen. It sits above the golf course, well towards East Vail. And each year, it turns yellow first, a brash punctuation in a sea of green. The solo tree is a reminder that the snow will come soon.

But before the snows come, the color does. And there’s nothing like heading out on a cool, fall weekend day, deep into the woods to soak up some color yourself.

While we’re blessed with spectacular vistas and aspen groves that glow red and yellow each October, there are several campsites, rides and drives that capture the best that fall in the high country offers. Best of all, they can easily be reached in a day.

Even the most remote trip, listed here – a weekend camping jaunt to one of the state’s most pristine aspen groves – isn’t far. But don’t take our word on it.

Keep your eye on the aspens, and when that solo golden guy in East Vail has been joined by his friends in a fiery blaze of glory, head on out on one of the excursions listed below:

The drive

Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon is often referred to as a marvel of engineering. Maybe so, but the combination of multi-hued rock, deep, green pines and scrub oak, which turns a frightening red in the fall, is a kaleidoscope of fall color. Have on person do the drive to Glenwood Springs, then trade seats for the return trip. After all, someone’s got to keep their eyes on the road.

The ride

It’s not for nothing that they call it Golden Peak. Named after the aspens that pain the eastern side of Vail Mountain its eponymous color, Golden Peak is the starting point for a mountain-biking epic which offers riders the chance to soak up fall splendor. Best of all, the Golden Peak loop offers a mix of singletrack and dirt road, providing mountain-biking options for all ability levels.

The campsite

Kebler Pass, between Crested Butte and Redstone is home to the oldest and largest single organism alive on the planet today: a massive, endless Aspen grove which blankets both sides of the road over the pass. This aspen grove has remained pretty much the same for more than thousands of years. Reason enough to load up the jalopy with your camping gear and head on out there. There are numerous great campsites just off the road and you can head into Crested Butte in the morning for coffee and bagels.

Go now

No matter which of these options you choose, or even if you decide to strike out on your own, to some remote area like the Flattops Wilderness, remember to bring a warm sleeping bag, a camera and a friend. Beautiful fall days don’t last forever and Colorado’s beauty always seems brighter if there’s someone with whom to share it.

Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail.


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